Monday, December 30, 2013

The Waiting Stew

The first time I made this stew, I was delirious and still half in panic mode, having spent most of the previous night in the equivalent of the animal e.r. with my cat. But by the time I sat down to eat it with friends, about 20 hours later, the panic had subsided some- the outcome of some much-needed sleep and the realization that at that point there was nothing to do but wait and enjoy the company and comfort of my good friends. The second time I made the stew, I was anxiously waiting on word about my little nephew, born just a few days before, still unnamed, having breathing issues and in the hospital. By the time I sat down to eat it with friends, again, about 20 hours later, the little boy was out of the hospital though the breathing issue was not- and still is not- totally resolved, and there was nothing I could do, being so very far away, but sit and wait. Now, as I  am eating the leftovers of that same stew, I am waiting for the penicillin I have been taking for the last 30 or so hours to finally kick in at full force so that I can get rid of the pesky needle-stuck throat that comes with strep, and get on with my life.

This is the perfect stew for tenter-hooks, warm and comforting, but still bright even after 20 hours of slow cooking. The brightness comes from the copious 20 pods of cardamom that somehow retain their flavor after all that time. As Charlie Trotter points out in his cookbook, cardamom and ginger are related. The stew reflects that. I found the cookbook Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home in used bookstore, being sold for a whopping 10 shekel (about 3-4 dollars). I couldn't pass it up. Despite the fact that I grew up in Chicago, and still consider it my hometown, I have never eaten any of Trotter's food, but I know enough to know that he changed the Chicago culinary scene forever. I wanted to see what he would do with a home kitchen.It turns out that Charlie Trotter at home is well, still Charlie Trotter- by which I mean complicated. All of his recipes are compelling and accessible, no doubt, but they also inevitably involve numerous components and steps. For the sake of time, and due to the fact that I was desecrating the recipe and sticking in a crockpot to begin with, I streamlined this stew a bit. I think it turned out pretty gosh darn good. I hope Chef Trotter is not turning in his grave. I somehow think he is not.

Stew for eating with friends and for waiting.

Cardamom Beef Stew with Potatoes, Celery Root and Parsley Root

Adapted from Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home by Charlie Trotter

1 cup chopped celery
1 cup carrot, cut into chunks
2 cups chopped onion
2 tablespoons canola oil
20 cardamom pods, crushed and bundled together in some cheesecloth
1 pound stew meat, cubed
salt and pepper
1 head of garlic, unpeeled
6 cups stock (Trotter calls for beef, I used turkey stock because that is what I had in the house- you can use whatever you have on, even water would probably be fine)
2 cups potato, also diced large
1 cup celery root, diced large
1 cup parsley root (or even better, parsnip, if you can find it), diced large

1. In a large pan, heat the oil over a medium-high heat. Toss in the beef, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and brown- about 3 minutes per side. Dump the meat into the crock you have set up and turned on high. Toss the vegetables (leaving aside the garlic) into the frying pan (without cleaning it out first), season with some salt and pepper and move them around a bit so they color and take on some of the good, beefy flavor. You may need to do this in batches. Place the vegetables in the crockpot with the meat. Pour in the stock. Add the cheesecloth and the garlic. Cover and let the stew come to a boil. Turn the crockpot down to low and cook for a good 20 hours until the meat is falling apart. Serve over a grain- pearl barley is particularly good here.

***An even more streamlined version- toss all the ingredients (leaving out the oil) into a crockpot. Cook on high until it comes to a boil, then lower the heat to  low. Cook for 20 hours.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Jerusalem in Jerusalem (Winter Version)

It started with rain. No, let's go back some- it started a few weeks ago when a friend of mine invited me to a screening of the BBC's "The Food of Jerusalem" with a panel at the end featuring, among others, Yotam Ottolenghi himself. Well. I spent about 45 minutes trying to decide to wear and then another 45 minutes trying to decide if I should bring my book(s)-guache? cliche? totally worth it? I didn't bring my books. I regret that. "The Food of Jerusalem" is a lovely little feature and in film and in person, Yotam Ottolenghi reveals himself to be intelligent, witty and warm. It was a great night. (Though at a certain point both my friend and I felt compelled to stand up for our Ashkenazi, Hungarian culinary roots-there was a distinct lack of Ashkenazi representation both in the film and the book- and we all know that cocosh is where it's at.)

In an extended scene in the film Yotam cooks a dish of wheat berries, Swiss chard and pomegranate molasses with a friend of his. Watching the scene, I realized that I recognized the recipe from his cookbook, Jerusalem, and it was one of the few recipes Naomi and I had not yet cooked (we've been doing this weekly for almost a year- we're running out of recipes). The time had come.

Then came the weather. In the past week Jerusalem has been hit with about 50 cm of snow. It snowed- on and off- for three days straight in a city that very rarely even gets one snowfall a year. To say that it brought the city to a standstill is an understatement. I lost electricity (and heat, since I heat my apt with electric radiators) for about 7 hours and I was one of the lucky ones- there were quite a few people who didn't have electricity for days. As of now, almost a week later, we are still dealing with burst pipes and leaks, icy sidewalks and downed trees. The snow was fun, the rest, not so much. But before the snow, there was rain. Cold, gross, blowing rain and it was in that element that I walked to Naomi's to cook. Never have I been so happy to cook a dish. The wheat berries were perfect for the cold, miserable night- warm and soft and comforting, but still bright and flavorful. I wish I could have carried that dish with me into the coming week- into the snowstorm. Sure, I ate pretty well during the course of the last week-brownies and pancakes and stew and acorn squash risotto-winter foods all- but nothing quite measured up to the Ottolenghi dish.

Wheat berries and Swiss Chard with Pomegranate Molasses for a Jerusalem Winter that Exceeds Expectations

 Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

1 1/2 lb (600 g) Swiss chard or beet greens
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 large leeks, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 tablespoons (more or less) pomegranate molasses
1 1/4 cups wheat berries
2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
salt and pepper
yogurt, to serve (optional)

1. Separate the chard leaves from their stalks. Chop the stalks into 1cm slices and the leaves into 2 cm slices.

2. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan with a heavy bottom. Add the leeks, cook for 3-4 minutes and then add the chard stalks. Cook for another 3 minutes, then add the chard leaves and cook for yet another 3 minutes. Add the sugar, pomegranate molasses and wheat berries. Mix. Add the stock, slat and some pepper. Cover, bring to a boil and then simmer gently for 60-70 minutes.

3. When the wheat is cooked through, but still al dente, uncover and raise the heat a bit. Boil off any remaining  liquid until the bottom of the pan is dry and the bottom layer of wheat is lovely and caramelized. This may seem like overkill, but really, it makes the dish.

4. Taste. The berries should be sweet and tart and very bright. Add some more pomegranate molasses if you feel it needs more flavor. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, if so desired.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Bowl of Comfort

I apologize for the long absence. It has been a long, hard month. As some of you may know from Facebook, my cat (the very same bread-thief) had been quite ill. Thankfully she's been getting better, and hopefully she will continue to improve, but it was touch and go there for a bit. Anyway, long and hard, as I said, and I'm only just now starting to feel like I'm getting back to myself. 
Sometime between when my cat got ill and now (read: this week) winter arrived. This November was one of the warmest Novembers I could remember and I think I was sort of in denial about the onset of winter. I kind of hate Jerusalem winters. Rather, I hate the lack of insulation and heating and being wet and cold in my bones. So the cold and rain kind of took me unawares and I seem to have picked up the bad cold that has been going around the office and all and all I'm pretty miserable at this very moment. All of this, is a slightly roundabout way of saying that the time for soup has arrived. Soup (and tea) are my default states during the winter and I'm always on the lookout for new delicious soups to make. Luckily, my sister-in-law did not let me down when she pointed me to Mark Bittman's Roasted Chestnut Soup. Roasted chestnuts always remind me of long winter Friday nights, the difficulty of the cracking open their hard shells, the warm low light inside and the bright snow outside. There's little to no bright snow where I live now, but in my mind that is always the association roasted chestnuts will hold for me.  

Roasted chestnut soup. For winter.

Roasted Chestnut Soup

Bittman suggests roasting your own chestnuts for this soup, but vacuum-packed roasted chestnuts are just so much easier. Use them. 

10-12 roasted chestnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 cups stock (chicken for a richer soup, vegetable for something lighter)
salt and pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in a stockpot, or other soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and then the celery with a good pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Saute until the onion is soft and translucent- about 10 minutes. Add the chestnuts and the stock. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Simmer, partially uncovered for a half an hour, until the chestnuts are mushy. Use a hand blender to puree the soup. Add water, if too thick, otherwise re-heat, taste, adjust seasoning and serve.